This blog post is one part of the series “learning diary” for a course at my university.
Goal of this report is to take and rate a online learning unit. For the fourth and final learning unit we should take a mobile learning unit. I used the app Learning Japanese (Google Play Store) for my mobile phone. As an experiment we have been asked to create a video for the review: https://youtu.be/LUS9Tu6RVpo
Short synopsis of the unit:
Learning Japanese is a language learning software for the Android platform. It consists of three main components: The Kana learning (Kana being the two basic alphabets of the Japanese language), an expression trainer (Dates, Time and numbers) as well as a vocabulary trainer.
The app focuses on Kana learning, as all other components build on the ability to read Kana. Based on that skill the “daily expression” tab provides lists of numbers, dates and times as well as tests for these sections. Somewhat easy to overlook is a small icon on the top right corner of the numbers section on which you can enter numbers, which get translated to the corresponding sign (including a sound file).
The third section is reserved for the vocabulary list of the Japanese-Language-Proficiency Test (JLPT). This test is similar to TOEFL or IELTS but for the Japanese language. The needed vocabulary for the five level of this test is listed in this app and can be trained and tested.
Reflection on your personal learning experience
All in all, I’m disappointed. I started (and stopped…) to learn Japanese several years ago and hoped this app could maybe reinforce my small knowledge of the language. Even better I hoped it could ignite my desire to finally learn the language again.
Unfortunately, it didn’t ignite anything. The app may be suited to learners of Japanese which had a more recent encounter with the language but it is in my opinion not helpful for beginners or people looking to refresh their knowledge.
My learning experience with this as (again, basically as a beginner) was frustrating. There is no learning concept at all, just different components like the syllables to memorize.
Did you achieve the stated learning goals?
No, I did not achieve the stated learning goal. As stated before my learning experience was not as good as expected. I think I’m not the right target audience for this app. Maybe with a hint at the description page of the app I would have chosen another app.
Did the given time suffice?
There is not statement how long it does take to memorize all Kana or the provided vocabulary and expressions. Taking the 90 minutes in considerations the mobile learning units should take, I would say that the time is not sufficient.
Even if the learner had some training in the past, the 90 minutes aren’t enough to memorize even one of the Kana (not to speak of the vocabulary and the expressions). I managed to remember the first set of Hiragana (the first of the Kana) after roughly four hours of use, with mediocre results on the tests.
Comment on the design - what was good, what could be made better?
Two main points regarding the design are worth mentioning, when discussing this app: Usability and the used learning method.
Starting with the usability I need to add that I’m not a user interface designer or an expert on this topic. Yet, in my opinion the app lacks usability at certain points:
- No introduction. It would be nice to have a brief introduction in the app. “What is the intended order of the lessons?”, “What can I do on the different lessons?”, “What is Kana?”
- No information about location. When the app is started, the first screen is the Gojûon (“Fifty Sounds”, the Kana training area, see Figure 1). Most of the screen is empty, but the information that you are located at the Gojûon chapter is missing (at the top would be a good place). This is true for all menu elements. In the actual trainings this is no issue as there is a title on these screens.
- Usage: The hamburger menu (Figure 1, top left) is a more or less known element for menus in many apps. Yet it resides unremarkable on the menu screen and I didn’t expect it to contain the whole control flow of the app.
- Another annoying design issue with these app is the need to download every single sound file manually. A sound file for every single syllable on the Kana table (Figure 2) gets downloaded on the first click on these syllable. This is usually fast (less than one second), yet breaks the “flow”. It would be better to include these file directly in the installation or (if the initial app size is of concern) provide a “download all sound files” button.
The second (and more important) design issue of these app in my opinion is the used learning method. As I mentioned earlier I had some training in Japanese several years ago. The learning method here in this app is best described as drill: “Look at these 200 foreign characters and remember them”.
The method I learned the Kana with was invented by James W. Heisig (J. W. Heisig/ K. Gresbrand – Die Kana lernen und behalten). It ties every single sign (and the modifiers) to a story which stays memorable longer. Just by looking at the Kana in this app table I remembered some of the stories from that book.
Probably the app can’t incorporate these methods because of intellectual property reasons (which is understandable) but the given learning method for this app wasn’t helpful for me at all. If the designer of the app would have tried to make the learning process a little bit less tedious (stories, small lessons etc.), maybe I would be more positive about the app.
Positive and negative aspects of the contents of the unit
- Stroke order: On thing this app shines is the stroke order. For a “good” Kana sign, the strokes of a sign should be done in a certain order (if done so, some of the smaller hooks at the signs are more natural). Most Kana books show the stroke order with small numbers next to each stroke, but the app actually draws the sign.
- JLPT vocabulary. For every learner of Japanese who wants to have a certificate of his language skill, the vocab list is very important (grammar is in general easy in Japanese, so vocabulary is slightly more important). The app provides a solid test tool (random tests, reappearance of wrong vocabulary, multiple choice for English to Japanese, solution to every answer) so for more proficient learner this app is a good choice.
- No introduction
- General control flow in the menus
- The need to download every single sound file afterwards. Very annoying
Almost unusable if no (or very few) prior Japanese language knowledge exists
Grade the course on a scale of 0-10.
All in all, I would grade this app with a 5 out of 10. Most of the positive and negative points had already been listed in the previous chapter, but I really want to stress the point of the learning method for Kana (see “Comment on the design”). The method used in this app wasn’t helpful at all to learn the Kana (for me). I’m pretty sure one can learn the Kana this way, but it’s harder than necessary.
The app got a bad grade from me. My main reasons for that are due to the fact that I’m not the right target audience. So if someone with more prior knowledge in Japanese rates this app, he could give a better grade. Also, the fact that this app is free should be taken in considerations, as other sources to learn Japanese like books (the mentioned one for example) aren’t free.